For Jim McElwain’s Colorado State Rams, the win over Hawaii was the most important victory of the season.
That’s because it was the current contest.
McElwain’s philosophy of one game, one play, one practice rep at a time is working; CSU passed the toughest test of the year last night and into this morning, nearly 2 a.m. local time.
See, Coach Mac believes by focusing on the immediate task at hand, his youthful players will not look too far into the future or past.
They’re subscribing to what McElwain is selling; the Rams won this morning 35-28, evening up their record at 4-4 and keeping alive the hopes and dreams of playing in a bowl game.
Colorado State could have looked back to last week, an emotional win over their rival, Wyoming, or they could have overlooked the 0-6 Rainbow Warriors, seeing Boise State coming to town next Saturday. McElwain’s Rams didn’t do either; they kept the focus on beating Hawaii, which they did by running up 35 points in the first half while Kapri Bibbs ran all over the Rainbow Warriors.
All week long, McElwain sold this as just another road trip and players told us it was a “business trip;” still, this was something special.
The Rams had to take a bus to DIA, fly to California and refuel before flying to Hawaii. A seven-hour road trip is much different than an hour and a half bus ride up to Laramie, Wyoming and the destination in paradise was undoubtedly a distraction, too.
Because of the lengthy trip, Coach Mac allowed his players to dress in the more casual team sweats and t-shirts rather than their usual business suits and ties. That was different.
And due to the four time zone difference, the game kicked off at 10 p.m. Mountain Time, when the Rams have grown used to playing at 1:30 in the afternoon. It was different, but the team adjusted and played through the fatigue.
Maybe different has been good for the development of the team, though. After all, no road trip this season has been the same.
CSU played CU in Denver, then against Tulsa in Oklahoma and traveled to the football Mecca, Tuscaloosa, Alabama to play the Crimson Tide before Laramie and Hawaii. Each one had a distinctively different feel, and now the Rams have learned to adjust, adapt and take advantage of their competition.
Following wins and losses alike, McElwain says he asks players, “Was it us or was it them?” Was it something the opponent did better, faster, more efficiently and effectively than his CSU team? Or were mistakes caused by the Rams themselves?
Coach Mac forces his team to take accountability in losses and of specific plays when they go badly, but it means they’re also responsible when things go right, as they have three times over the last four weeks.
In those three wins, Colorado State has finally started looking like a team run by a former Alabama offensive coordinator. The Rams have relentlessly run, for 250 yards against UTEP, 291 in the Border War win and 231 last night, resulting in running up the score. In those victories, CSU scored 59, 52 and 35 points; confidence is rising, playmakers have emerged.
One of those playmakers is sophomore back Bibbs, who has been beastly. He’s averaged 162 rushing yards while scoring three rushing touchdowns in each of those wins, along with a receiving score in the blowout of UTEP.
Bibbs possesses both speed and quickness, putting his amazing balance and agility on display on his second TD run last night, and showing off speed while running away from Wyoming defenders two weeks ago for a 59-yard score. He may look small, but Bibbs has powerful legs, seemingly always driving them and coming away with positive yards, even between the tackles. He’s quickly become the best back on the team and may be the best player to suit up for the green and gold this year. Bibbs’ 12 total rushing touchdowns tie him for fifth-best in CSU history, with five games to play.
Likewise, tight end Kivon Cartwright has become quarterback Garrett Grayson’s go-to guy, reeling in a team-high six receiving touchdowns. True freshman Rashard Higgins has big-play ability as well, leading the team with 35 receptions and 456 yards, including a 56-yard score. And second string running back Donnell Alexander has made multiple “splash” plays as well.
It hasn’t been all offense this season either; DeAndre Elliot’s manly interception ignited the Rams last night and Max Morgan’s 73-yard fumble return touchdown gave CSU the 14-0 lead. Also, defensive MVP Shaquil Barrett is sixth in the nation with 7.5 sacks and his 13.5 tackles for a loss lead the team, too.
In the end, this victory represents the first time Colorado State has won back-to-back games on the road while also being the first winning streak under McElwain in his two years as the head man in Fort Collins.
Those back-to-back road victories prove the team has caught on and bought into McElwain’s philosophies. The goal of making a bowl can still be realized by the Rams.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichKurtzman for all your CSU Rams news and opinion.